Friday, July 29, 2011

Whale Watching Up Close

Get ready for an ocean safari in search of the largest mammals in the world. From seaports around the country summer and fall are excellent times to embark on whale watching tours.

Many weekend tours offer three cruises throughout the day with the last tour, the sunset cruise, departing in time to view the whales in the warm glow of the setting sun. The New England Aquarium sunset tour is a four hour adventure to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, located near the inner waters formed by Cape Cod's hook shape. The 30 mile trip from Boston Harbor takes about 90 minutes, leaving a good hour to search for humpbacks, minke, pilot and, if you're particularly lucky, the elusive and rare right whale.

The ship's captain usually enlists the adventurers to help in the whale search as they near the feeding grounds where they feed on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton and small fish. With the alert sounded that the ship is getting close everyone focuses on the horizon. Excitement builds as hundreds of eyes scan the waters for the tell tale spray from the whale's blowhole or the flip of a huge tail. Each trip is unique with the possibility of any combination of whales, dolphins, or sharks becoming visible. On this particular sunset cruise nature put on a dazzling display for those who came out to spend a little time with the whales. Following the vapor trail sightings a huge whale fluke was seen disappearing beneath the sea surface. Then off the port bow, almost as if on cue, a huge humpback whale breaches the surface and is rewarded with a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the crowd.

A few points to remember to make your adventure memorable include taking motion sickness medication if you are prone to getting seasick, or if the waters will be rough. Be sure to keep hydrated, not with alcohol. Even in summer bring a light jacket as the weather changes often. Bring a camera, the whales are often close enough that even your camera phone will record a good image. Most tours offer guaranteed whale sightings, with a ticket on another day if you fail to see a whale. Regardless of which cruise you choose the wonder of seeing 30 or 40 ton whales rising out of the water as they breach the surface is inspiring.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Baltimore Zoo Opens for the Season

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore opened the gates on the 2010 season Saturday. Although the rainy day opening limited the turnout, those who attended enjoyed seeing the animals, and reportedly the animals enjoyed the company. As a result of the recent heavy snows some of the exhibits, like the Marsh Aviary and African Aviary will remain closed until they can be repaired. Even with the damage to some parts of the zoo there is still plenty to enjoy. Start Spring early by getting out of the house and enjoy a cost saving adventure. Going to the zoo is a great way to connect with nature, your family and even yourself.

Mark Saturday, March 20th, on your calendar to celebrate Sampson, the baby elephant's, second birthday. Participants will sing happy birthday to the zoo's youngest elephant, get their faces painted, and enjoy a slice of cake from Charm City Cakes. The celebration will be from 11 AM to 1 PM. Don't forget to sign Sampson's birthday card while you are there.

The Maryland Zoo’s African Journey is the largest exhibit area on the 160 acre zoo, dedicated to the animals and birds of the African continent. A few of the many exhibits include leopards, cheetahs, warthogs, giraffes, elephants, lions, chimpanzees, vultures and West African cranes.

A favorite feature in the African Journey is the giraffe feeding plaza where you can feed the giraffe’s everyday between 10:30 and 3 pm. Be aware the giraffe feeding areas may be closed if the field remains too muddy for them.

The Maryland Wilderness is featured in the Children's Zoo and represents the animals, birds and reptiles of the state. Included in the exhibit are domesticated animals like goats and sheep and typical farm animals. This part of the zoo has a lot of interaction to keep young kids interested in discovering more about animal and their habitat. They have Plexiglas enclosures to watch river otter’s underwater, a cave to see bats and snakes and even an ecological tree built with stairs that you walk up inside. At the top of the tree is an optional slide, a favorite with the kids.

One of the first exhibit areas in the zoo, after taking the tram from the entrance, is the Polar Bear Watch. From here you can see the largest predators in the world, Alaska and Magnet, and their newest addition, Anoki. Anoki is on loan from the New Mexico Biological Park in Albuquerque. A unique aspect of this exhibit is an actual Tundra Buggy that is air conditioned and overlooks the water and bear habitat.

Not only is a trip to the zoo a great way to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends it is an opportunity to learn about and discuss how we take care of animals and our surroundings. The zoo is a good day trip that can be educational in many ways. On my last visit, my daughter asked me who was faster, a cheetah or a leopard. I now know it is the cheetah, running at up to 70 miles per hour for long distances compared to about 40 miles per hour in short bursts for the leopard.

The zoo is open every day ten months a year, from March through December, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The hours are 10 am to 4 pm. Tickets can be purchased online or at the gate. Online adult tickets, and weekday gate prices are: $14, children $10 and seniors $12. Weekend rates are: adults $16, children $11, and seniors $13. Parking is free.

Consider an annual family membership for $99 and enjoy a year of great visits.

American Visionary Art Museum - Baltimore

BALTIMORE, MD. - What are the threads that connect Sadaam Hussein’s reluctant personal physician, a 1919 Japanese immigrant, and the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy? The answers reside within the American Visionary Art Museum exhibit running through September 2010, in Baltimore, Maryland.

This is where the creative work of more than 50 visionary and self taught artists come together to display the intimacies of their cultural quest for human rights, civil rights, freedom and happiness. While the American Declaration of Independence is the thread for this monumental exhibit, the underlying concept is the human struggle, throughout the world, for freedom, equal dignity and basic rights. Contemporary and historical artists from disparate backgrounds use a variety of media to tell the stories of their experience and heritage.

Doctor Ala Bashir, renown plastic surgeon and Iraq's most famous painter, has three paintings on canvas and a terra cotta sculpture on display. His sculpture, The Cry, was the model for the 32 foot bronze monument erected in Iraq to commemorate where 400 women and children were killed in the first Gulf War. Basher was the personal physician and artist for former Iraqi dictator Sadaam Hussein until his overthrow in April 2003. When his vivid, twisted images of human suffering are compared to surreal painters, based upon his style, he is quoted as saying "My duty was to compete with death, the surrealists artists were dreaming dreams, I am painting what I saw."

Henry Sugimoto, a Japanese immigrant to the United States in 1919, captured his pursuit of the American dream experiences through a paint brush. His impressionistic paintings took on new meaning after his forced internment in the Fresno detention center in central California and Jerome and Rohwer concentration camps in Arkansas . His poignant style documents the experiences of Japanese Americans held behind barbed wire on American soil.

Early Native American art sheds light on the historical significance of the Iroquois nations that influenced the U.S. Constitution. Early natives had a democratic process in place generations before the Declaration of Independence. In fact George Washington and Benjamin Franklin invited representatives of the Iroquois Confederacy to Philadelphia in 1776, which likely served as an opportunity for them to learn about the Iroquois very successful form of government.

The struggle for America's civil rights, by African Americans, is creatively captured in thirteen letters sent to Charles Morgan Jr. in 1963. This is a collection of letters: hate mail and encouraging letters, juxtaposed against the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four young black girls. He spoke the day after the bombing to white leaders and businessmen whom he blamed for creating an atmosphere of racial hatred. After leaving Birmingham, he led a successful life as a civil rights lawyer.

The quest for freedom is also immortalized by Pedro Martin Declet, a former inmate who found his voice through art. He depicts his personal struggles and those of society through collage and assemblages, like his collage "Portrait de Genocide".

Experiencing the exhibit:

The entire exhibit combines history and art in a very unique and interactive manner. For teachers or students, the American Visionary Art Museum is a fascinating land of discovery with permanent exhibits that complement the traveling shows. Lesson plans for grades 5 through 12 are available on the AVAM website. Even if you are not a student these plans will help to navigate, focus, and get more out of your visit to an extraordinary spot.

Spend the day and plan on staying for lunch or dinner (or both) at Mr. Rains Funhouse, located in the museum.

The American Visionary Art Museum is located at the base of Federal Hill, south of Baltimore's Inner Harbor at 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD 21230-3940. The museum is open 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday-Sunday, except Christmas and Thanksgiving day. Cost is $14 for adults, $8 for students and there are discounts for seniors and groups of ten or more.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Atlantic Ciry Air Show Rocks the Beach

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Windows rattled along the boardwalk as the sky came to life with Raptors, Super Hornets and Fighting Falcons, filling the sky over the ocean surf, bringing the thunder to Atlantic City.

The daylong 2009 air show, sponsored by Borgata Casino, delivered on its theme: "Thunder Over the Boardwalk." Aircraft from WWII through the nation's most modern F-22 Raptor roared just over the water in front of an estimated 750,000 spectators.

Traffic moving into Atlantic City continued throughout the event, with cars and buses still streaming to the beach as the airshow was winding down. The heat and crowds was a boon to boardwalk businesses as sales of water skyrocketed. Not only was the beach packed with people of all ages, the ocean had its own flotilla of sky watchers. The famed U.S. Air Force Thunderbird's did their exceptional crowd pleasing precision flying along the beach. All eyes were to the sky, except for a few youngsters busily putting the finishing touches on their sand castle, as the Thunderbirds closed out the show.

The U.S. Air Force also flew their traditional Heritage Flight, which began in 1997 to commemorate their 50th anniversary. The tradition continues, as it began, with the most recent jet fighters flying in close formation with earlier era warcraft, like the P-51 Mustang. At this event the demonstration included an F-16 Fighting Falcon, an A-10 Thunderbolt (often called a wart hog), and two P-51 Mustangs. The Navy had their own Legacy Flight with and FA/18F & F4U Corsair.

In addition to the military presence, there were a number of civilian demonstrations and aerobatic teams on the program. Jim Beasley, a Philadelphia lawyer, is lead pilot for the three WWII Mustang team called the Horsemen, put on an dazzling show as did the Red Eagle Air Sports team.

If you love crowds, and the roaring sounds of freedom flying overhead then mark your calendar for next year at Atlantic City, or plan on attending the Naval Air Station Oceana Air Show in Virginia Beach October 17 and 18. The Blue Angels will be featured. As for me, next year I plan to stay overnight to avoid the traffic.

Thousands Line Up for National Book Festival

Tens of thousands book-lovers walked the National Mall, between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, to hear from their favorite authors today. Even with threatening clouds, and a few raindrops, the crowds kept streaming into the 2009 National Book Festival for a number of activities. The Library of Congress Pavilion featured interactive family-centered activities about the importance of lifelong literacy, cultural preservation, and preserving digital media. The crowds attending the event were estimated at 130,000, according to the Library of Congress. Included in that count were the thousands of children who thrilled to see their favorite characters like Clifford, the Big Red Dog, Arthur, Curious George and others who were on hand to greet them.

This is the ninth year for the festival that features the nation's bestselling authors, like John Grisham, James Patterson, Judy Blume, Nicholas Sparks and Annette Gordon-Reed. The Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington kicked off the event with an official opening and presentation of the National Book Festival Creative Achievement Award to John Grisham.

Following the opening the book sellers were in full swing with huge lines to buy the latest releases, and past favorites. After waiting to buy the books thousands lined up at various tents where the authors would autograph their books. The wait was often hours long but that didn't deter these fans. In other pavilions authors talked about their works, ideas and favorite characters. A panel presentation with children's authors, Jon Scieszka, Mary Brigid Barrett, Kate DiCamillo, Nikki Grimes, Shannon Hale, Steve Kellogg and Megan McDonald lasted over an hour to a packed audience.

This festival brings together authors with millions, sometimes hundreds of millions, of books in prints, with a virtual who's who of awards. The quality of their work is represented in the number and variety of awards and recognition bestowed. The awards include everything from the Pulitzer, National Book Club awards, Edgar Awards, Newbery Awards and National Book Critics Circle awards to those nominated for Emmy's or Academy Awards when their book was made for television of the big screen.

Throughout the day interviews were broadcast on Book TV, podcast from facebook and even twitter updates. Podcasts will be available from the Library of Congress website or for free on iTunes. You can download the 2009 National Book Festival poster, illustrated by noted author/artist Charles Santore of Philadelphia from several areas on the Library of Congress website. Santore is the written and illustrated "The Silk Princess," "The Three Hungry Pigs" and "The Wolf Who Came to Diner. The poster was a favorite with thousands of them given away at the festival.

One of the popular pavilions was hosted by Target Corporation, one of the event sponsors, as they gave out canvas bags to waiting crowds. Inside their tent was Bullseye, the popular miniature bull terrier mascot, posing with children. Honorary Chairs for this event are President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

The Revolution Comes to Jerusalem Mill Village

Historic Jerusalem Mill Village, in Maryland, hosted hundreds of re-enactors in a battle between Continental soldiers and the British Redcoats on Oct 10-11, 2009. The battle pitted over a hundred soldiers against each other in a mock attack, with cavalry, cannon and rifles, in a battle that never happened. This part of Maryland didn't see any battles during the revolution but the village is a historic area dating back to the revolution era. The Jerusalem gristmill opened in 1772 and operated continuously until 1961, the oldest, most intact mill village in Maryland.

The participants arrived as early as Thursday to set up camp and begin living, like the people they portray, did over 230 years ago. Most of the participants, from neighboring states and some even further, joined reenactment groups to recreate the life and times of either the Crown or the Patriots. They strive to demonstrate the correct behavior and bearing of the soldiers, officers, wives and camp followers, of a time long ago. The participants research the individuals they portray, study the battles, the dress and weapons that were used. Also at the camp were many artisans selling material and wares that are recreations or actual historic pieces.

With colorful and historic names like "His Majesty's 40th Regiment of Foot", "The 17th Light Dragoons" or the "Royal Highland Emigrants", the assembled groups came together to give visitors a glimpse of what life might have been like during the founding of the country. The participants are members of either The Continental Line, Inc. or The British Brigade, Inc., both national volunteer organizations dedicated to the memories of the soldiers they portray.

The host for "The Redcoats are Coming" weekend are the Friends of Jerusalem Mill, in cooperation with the staff of Gunpowder Falls State Park, and is made possible, in part, by grants from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Harford County Government through the Harford County Cultural Arts Board.